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Temporal range: 
|Scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides)|
Ablabes, Anguis, Bellophis, Calamaria, Coronella, Herpetodryas, Natrix, Ophibolus, Osceola, Phibolus, Pseudelaps, Zacholus
Kingsnakes are colubrid New World members of the genus Lampropeltis, which includes milk snakes and four other species. Among these, about 45 subspecies are recognized. They are non-venomous snakes and are ophiophagous in diet.
Range and morphology
Kingsnake species inhabit the Americas from southeastern Canada to southern Ecuador. Several species vary widely in size and coloration. Adult scarlet kingsnakes are typically 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 in) in length, while the common kingsnake can grow to 1.8 m (6 ft). Some kingsnakes are colored in muted browns to black, while others are brightly marked in white, reds, yellows, grays, and lavenders that form rings, longitudinal stripes, speckles, and saddle-shaped bands.
Behavior and diet
Kingsnakes use constriction to kill their prey and tend to be opportunistic in their diet; they eat other snakes (ophiophagy), including venomous snakes. Kingsnakes also eat lizards, rodents, birds, and eggs. The common kingsnake is known to be immune to the venom of other snakes and does eat rattlesnakes, but it is not necessarily immune to the venom of snakes from different localities.
Kingsnakes such as the California kingsnake can exert twice as much constriction force relative to body size as rat snakes and pythons. Scientists believe such strong coils may be an adaptation to snake and other reptile prey, which can sustain lower blood-oxygen levels before asphyxiating.
Most kingsnakes have quite vibrant patterns on their skins. Some species, such as the scarlet kingsnake, Mexican milk snake, and red milk snake, have coloration and patterning that can cause them to be confused with the highly venomous coral snakes.
One of the mnemonic rhymes to help people distinguish between coral snakes and their nonvenomous lookalikes in the United States is "red on black, a friend of Jack; red on yellow, kill a fellow". Other variations include "red on yellow kill a fellow, red on black venom lack", and referencing the order of traffic lights "yellow, red, stop!" All these mnemonics apply only to the three species of coral snakes native to the southern United States: Micrurus fulvius (the eastern or common coral snake), Micrurus tener (the Texas coral snake), and Micruroides euryxanthus (the Arizona coral snake). Coral snakes found in other parts of the world can have distinctly different patterns, such as having red bands touching black bands, having only pink and blue bands, or having no bands at all.
Taxonomic reclassification of the kingsnakes is an ongoing process and different sources often disagree, one source granting full species status to a group of these snakes that another source considers a subspecies group. In the case of Lampropeltis catalinensis, for example, only a single specimen exists, so classification is not necessarily finite. In addition, hybridization between species with overlapping geographic ranges is not uncommon, confusing taxonomists further.
List of kingsnake species and subspecies
Kingsnake species and subspecies include (listed here alphabetically by specific and subspecific name):
- Guatemalan milk snake, Lampropeltis abnorma (Bocourt, 1886)
- Gray-banded kingsnake, Lampropeltis alterna (A. E. Brown, 1901)
- Mexican milk snake, Lampropeltis annulata Kennicott, 1860
- California kingsnake, Lampropeltis californiae (Blainville, 1835)
- Prairie kingsnake, Lampropeltis calligaster (Harlan, 1827)
- Santa Catalina Island kingsnake, Lampropeltis catalinensis (Van Denburgh & Slevin, 1921)
- Scarlet kingsnake or scarlet milk snake, Lampropeltis elapsoides (Holbrook, 1838)
- Short-tailed snake, Lampropeltis extenuata (Brown, 1890)
- Central Plains milk snake, Lampropeltis gentilis (Baird & Girard, 1853)
- Common kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula (Linnaeus, 1766)
- Greer's kingsnake, Lampropeltis greeri (Webb, 1961)
- Speckled kingsnake, Lampropeltis holbrooki Stejneger, 1902
- Madrean mountain kingsnake, Lampropeltis knoblochi Taylor, 1940
- Nuevo León kingsnake, Lampropeltis leonis (Günther, 1893)
- Mexican kingsnake, Lampropeltis mexicana (Garman, 1884)
- Mexican kingsnake, L. m. mexicana (Garman, 1884)
- Ecuadorian milk snake, Lampropeltis micropholis Cope, 1860
- Black kingsnake, Lampropeltis nigra (Yarrow, 1882)
- Central American milk snake, Lampropeltis polyzona Cope, 1860
- Arizona mountain kingsnake, Lampropeltis pyromelana (Cope, 1866)
- Utah mountain kingsnake, L. p. infralabialis W. W. Tanner, 1953
- Arizona mountain kingsnake, L. p. pyromelana (Cope, 1866)
- Ruthven's kingsnake, Lampropeltis ruthveni (Blanchard, 1920)
- Desert kingsnake, Lampropeltis splendida (Baird & Girard, 1853)
- Eastern milk snake, Lampropeltis triangulum (Lacépède, 1789)
- Lampropeltis webbi Bryson, Dixon & Lazcano, 2005
- California mountain kingsnake, Lampropeltis zonata (Lockington, 1876 ex Blainville, 1835)
- San Pedro kingsnake, L. z. agalma (Van Denburgh & Slevin, 1923)
- Todos Santos Island kingsnake, L. z. herrerae (Van Denburgh & Slevin, 1923)
- Sierra Nevada mountain kingsnake, L. z. multicincta (Yarrow, 1882)
- Coast Ranges mountain kingsnake, L. z. multifasciata (Bocourt, 1886)
- San Bernardino mountain kingsnake, L. z. parvirubra Zweifel, 1952
- San Diego mountain kingsnake, L. z. pulchra Zweifel, 1952
- Saint Helena mountain kingsnake, L. z. zonata (Lockington, 1876 ex Blainville, 1835)
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the smooth dorsal scales have an enamel-like surface to which the genus' Latin name, Lampropeltis, or "shining skin shield," refers.
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ISBN 0-395-19977-8 (paperback). (Genus Lampropeltis, p. 201.)
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- Hubbs, Brian (2009). Common Kingsnakes: A Natural History of Lampropeltis getula. Tricolor Books, Tempe, Arizona
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